India covers an area of 3,287,263 sq km. This is divided into 29 states and six di­rectly administered union territories. The states are further subdivided into districts.

The Himalaya

The north of the country is bordered by the long sweep of the Himalaya, the world’s highest mountains. They run from southeast to northwest, separating India from China and forming one of the youngest mountain ranges on earth. The Himalaya’s evolution can be traced to the Jurassic era (80 million years ago) when the world’s land masses were split into two: Laurasia in the northern hemisphere and Gondwanaland in the south­ern hemisphere. The land mass that is now India broke away from Gondwanaland and floated across the earth’s surface, eventually colliding with Laurasia. The hard volcanic rocks of India were thrust against the soft sedimentary crust of Laurasia, forcing it up­wards to create the Himalaya. This conti­nental collision continues and the mountains rise by up to 8mm each year.

The Himalaya is not a single mountain range but a series of ranges with valleys wedged between them. Kullu Valley in Hi­machal Pradesh and the Vale of Kashmir in Jammu and Kashmir are both Himalayan valleys, as is the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. West Bengal’s Khangchendzonga (formerly Kanchenjunga ) is the highest mountain in India at 8598m. Beyond the Himalaya stretches the high, dry and barren Tibetan plateau; Ladakh is a small part of this plateau, lying within India’s boundaries.

The final southern range of the Hima­laya, the Siwalik Hills, ends abruptly in the great northern plain in the northwest.

The Northern Plain

In complete contrast to the soaring mountain peaks, the northern plain is flat and slopes so gradually that as it stretches east from Delhi to the Bay of Bengal it only drops a total of 200m. The sacred Ganges River rises in Gangotri and drains a large part of the north­ern plain before merging with the Brahma­putra River. In the northwest, the Indus

River starts flowing through Ladakh in India but soon diverts into Pakistan to become that country’s most significant river.

The Northeast

The northeast boundary of India is defined by the foothills of the Himalaya, separating it from Myanmar ( Burma ). It’s here that India bends around Bangladesh, nearly meeting the sea on its eastern side.

The Centre & the South

South of the northern plains, the land rises up into the high plateau of the Deccan. The plateau is bordered on both sides by ranges of hi I Is that parallel the coast to the cast and west Of these, the Western Chats are higher and have a wider coastal strip than the eastern; the two ranges meet in the extreme south in the Nilgiri Hills. The major rivers of the south are the Godavari and the Krishna. Both rise on the eastern slope of the Western Ghats and flow across the Deccan into the sea on the eastern coast.

The West

On the western side, India is separated from Pakistan by three distinct regions. In the north, in the disputed region of Kashmir, the boundary is formed by the Himalayas which drop down to the plains of Punjab, merging into the Great Thar Desert in the western part of Rajasthan. This is an area of great natural beauty and is extremely bar­ren. It’s hard to imagine that it was once covered by thick forests. Discoveries made by palaeontologists in 1996 suggest that the area was inhabited by dinosaurs and their ancestors as long as 300 million years ago.

Finally, the state of Gujarat is separated from the Sind in Pakistan by the unusual marshland known as the Rann of Kutch. In the dry season (November to April) the marshland dries out, leaving manyisolated salt islands perched on an expansive plain. In the wet season (June to August) the marsh­land floods to become a vast inland sea.

The Islands

Although politically part of India, the An­daman and Nicobar Islands, scattered along the eastern extremity of the Bay of Bengal, are in fact closer both physically and geographically to Myanmar and Indonesia respectively. The Andaman and Nicobar

Islands comprise 572 tropical islands and form the peaks of a vast submerged moun­tain range that extends for almost 1000km between Myanmar ( Burma ) and Sumatra.

The coral atolls, which are known as Lak­shadweep, some 300km west of the Malabar coast, are in effect a northern extension of the Maldives. Lakshadweep consists of 36 islands covering a land area of 32 sq km. All the islands are coral atolls (theoretically formed around a submerged volcano) that slope towards the west, where low-lying lagoons protect the islands’ inhabitants from the worst effects of the southwest monsoon.